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Ex-mayor of GMA, Cavite acquitted of graft

/ 09:48 PM March 12, 2019

MANILA, Philippines — The former mayor of General Mariano Alvarez (GMA) town in Cavite, Leonisa Virata, has been acquitted of graft charges in connection with the alleged preferential treatment given to a bazaar operator.

The Seventh Division said in the decision penned by Associate Justice Georgina Hidalgo that the prosecution failed to prove Virata’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

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“Well-entrenched in jurisprudence is the rule that the conviction of the accused must rest, not on the weakness of the defense, but on the strength of the prosecution,” the anti-graft court said in its 17-page decision dated March 8, 2019.

“The burden is on the prosecution to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt, not on the accused to prove his innocence,” it added.

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Virata was accused of favoring a certain Rasul Ambol when she gave a temporary business permit that allowed Ambol to set up a bazaar at the closed portion of the Congressional Road.

A Municipal Ordinance “prohibits the use of roads for commercial and business purposes and without an ordinance authorizing the closure of a portion of Congressional Road.”

However, the prosecution claimed that Virata’s EO No. 23 series of 2012, which created a re-routing scheme,  provided advantages to Ambol’s business.

However, the Sandiganbayan said the EO was made after consultations with other city officials and stakeholders and is part of Virata’s responsibility to curb heavy traffic within her jurisdiction.

“The evidence adduced, however, leads to the conclusion that the issuance of the executive order was clearly made in the regular performance of the accused’s duties,” the decision said.

“What can be deduced is, when the accused issued Executive Order No. 23 s. of 2012, traffic congestion was a recognized problem in the affected roads indicated in the executive order, those roads being located in the business and economic zone of the Municipality,” it added.

The anti-graft court also noted that the roads, including the Congressional Road, were part of other traffic projects, as suggested by the transport and business sectors.

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“In fact, the roads plotted in the sketch plan of the executive order have previously been the subject of traffic control efforts owing to their nature as primary roads of the Municipality,” the Sandiganbayan explained.

“They are also the very same roads that were subjected to re-routing proposals given by the transport and business sectors as a result of the consultations that the Municipality, through the Mayor and the Municipal Traffic Management Office (MTMO), had with them,” it added.

The court also said that Virata’s relationship with Ambol and the reason behind the reason to grant favors to Ambol was also not established by the prosecution.

“There is no direct evidence connecting the accused to Mr. Ambol […] the prosecution failed to establish how the accused knew Mr. Ambol or if she previously dealt or transacted with him, or what she would gain or why she would give him a favor or benefit at the risk of jeopardizing her position,” the Sandiganbayan emphasized.

With the favorable ruling, the court effectively lifted the hold departure order against Virata, and the bail bond she posted worth P30,000 was released. /ee

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TAGS: Cavite, General Mariano Alvarez, Leonisa Virata, Philippine news updates, Sandiganbayan, Sandiganbayan Seventh Division
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